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How to write a web design brief

Jan 31st 2013

There’s a well known saying – Failing to plan, is planning to fail. A badly scoped web design project is no exception, and without a clear well thought through brief could be a costly mistake. With a few basics, you can protect your business, keep budgets on track and ensure the project runs smoothly and to plan.

How to write a web design brief?

Tell the story of your Business
Write a summary of what your business. Describe what you offer, what your strengths and weaknesses, and what your business is looking to achieve over the coming years. Be clear about where your business is in the market place and the type of customers you’re looking to attract, and most importantly the location of your potential clients.

Why do you want a website?
Sounds like an obvious question, but when you really think about it, it’s often a harder question to answer than you might think. Consider what the website should do, what your expectations are from it, and give a clear insight in to how you see it helping your business. Always present the problem you believe a new website may solve rather than what you see the solution as. If you need further advice, be clear where you feel you need it. Very often what you see as the solution may not be the best for your business and that’s where a good web designer can assist you with their experience.

What does it need to do?
Do you need any functional requirements such as contact forms, a shopping cart, a customer login, a social network or a blog. Never assume things such as a Contact Form are just “the norm” and will always be included, you may be set for disappointment. Always be clear and state what you feel is maybe the obvious, as often it may be missed and not obvious.

What pages does it need to have?
Think about what the pages you need will be, and more importantly what will be on the pages. Every website will have at least a Home page, but there are a lot of different things that can be on that one page alone, so don’t leave it to chance think it through, and if you’re not sure, say so and ask for advice.

Technical requirements
Do you have a specific technology or platform that you’d like to run your website? If so, say so, and give reasons. Websites need to be developed and tested for different platforms such as different web browsers and mobile phones, so be clear and realistic with your expectations.

If you need your website to support mobile devices, say so and give reasons, if you’re not sure, ask for advice.

Legal requirements
Websites have certain legal requirements such as the Company Registration number and Registered Office address if you’re a Limited Company. There is also WAI compliance for accessibility standards, this should be considered too.
If you’re looking to sell online, ask for information on PCI/DSS compliance and make sure you’re aware of the different options and legal implications when you write your brief.

Did you know that even once you’ve paid for a logo and website to be designed, the designer still by law holds the Intellectual Property Rights? If you’re uncomfortable with this and would like the rights assigned to you on completion, document this in your brief.

Will you own your website and what parts of it will you own?
Ensure that this is covered in your brief, and ask for details of licensing, and ownership of components used within the website.

A common issue with web design build is where the website runs on a Content Management System that’s owned by the web designer. What can happen is the website is tied to that Content Management System and therefore you’re tied to that supplier. Should that supplier stop trading or you want to switch supplier, the website has to be totally rebuilt. This is a dangerous and costly position for any business to be in, so deal with this up front with your brief.

Can you host the website with the host of your choice? If not, why not? Again, cover this from the outset with your brief.

On-going costs
Owning a website isn’t just about a one off build cost, there’s website hosting, domain name registration, plugin licensing (sometimes) and support and maintenance costs. There can often be Search Optimisation too in some cases. Be clear about not only the build cost, but what the on-going costs are too. Never assume that your web designer will back-up, maintain and make on-going changes for free.

Who’s working on it?
Some web design agencies have their own full time staff, however others use free-lance contractors, off shore development companies (for example in India) or partnering agencies.

Each different arrangement has its cons and cons, but it’s important to know exactly who you’ll be dealing with, who does what and how the project will be run.

Say what you’d expect to see
Also state the obvious with regard what you’d expect to be given back as part of the tendering process.
For example: examples of relevant work, initial costs, on-going costs, web hosting options, support and maintenance costs, rates, services offered, a history of the company.

Likes and Dislikes
Always give examples of your competitors websites and state what you like and dislike about them.
Look also at websites of businesses that are not like yours but are looking to attract business from the same market, again, give your likes and dislikes. Also, give general examples of websites that you like, these can be completely unrelated to your business, but will give an indication of what you consider to be good design.

Finally, ask within your tender for examples of what the web designer considers to be good design, and ask for an explanation as to why.

And don’t forget…
Many people assume the following things are automatically included with any website, so don’t make the same mistake. If you’re expecting them, say so:

  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • A Content Management System allowing you to edit the website yourself
  • Support and maintenance
  • Website Hosting
  • Regular back-ups
  • Support for malicious attacks, security breaches
  • Guaranteed up-time or a Service Level Agreement (SLA)
  • Support for all common browsers and mobile platforms
  • Social Media Integrations (if any)

Want to see an example for yourself, drop us a line, and we’ll send you an example!